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Ocean Spray restages drink concentrates in wide-mouth PET bottles

Around our way, clear, hot-filled plastic bottles of Ocean Spray shelf-stable juice drink concentrates began showing up on supermarket shelves in late March.
FILED IN:  Package Component  > Closures

We've since spotted them in several markets east of the Mississippi. And the folks at Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. (Lakeville-Middleboro MA) tell us their "Wide Mouth Refill" of polyethylene terephthalate is available in supermarkets across the United States. The roll-out of the concentrate bottle signals an end to Ocean Spray's use of aseptic cartons for concentrates that the grower coop had been using since pioneering the $86 million shelf-stable drink concentrate category in 1985. Consumer complaints about the inconvenience of aseptic cartons as refill containers-and the category share gains made by Welch Foods Inc. Concord MA and Cadbury Beverages Inc. Trumbull CT with large-opening aluminum cans-drove Ocean Spray to seek an alternative package for its concentrates. Consumers also didn't like the fact that Ocean Spray's cartoned concentrates reconstituted into only 42 oz of drink six oz less than its 48-oz glass bottles. Switching from cartons to PET bottles also lets Ocean Spray present a much stronger family look for its beverage line. Most of its single-strength drink bottles are PET. And market trackers say the brand's 48-oz glass containers are likely to be replaced with PET bottles later this year. The clear bell-shouldered 16-oz concentrate containers stand 71/8" high and have diameters extending to 213/16" at their three widest points: the base of the bell a reinforcing ring just above the recessed label panel and the heel of the bottle. These extensions are designed to enable the bottle to roll through specially designed gravity-fed dispenser racks that are wider but otherwise similar to those used for canned concentrates. Bottles are fitted with 43-mm white injection-molded tamper-evident polypropylene screw closures. Blue offset- printed copy on the caps identifies the pack as a "64 oz. Refill" and instructs consumers to "Just add 3 bottles of water." The wide-mouth finish is designed to make it easy to fill the bottle with water. The closure's resealability makes the PET bottle the first shelf-stable drink container specifically designed to let consumers reconstitute less than a full container of concentrate. Despite the copy on the closure and paper wraparound labels that identify the cranberry juice cocktail Cran-Grape® Cranapple® and Cran-raspberry® drink concentrate bottles as 64-oz refills they have been mistaken for single-serve single-strength drink containers. That's because retailers who have either not received the racks or aren't using them because they take up more linear shelf space than the competitors' can racks are stocking the concentrate bottles upright on the shelves next to Ocean Spray's other ready-to-serve drinks. The fact that displaying the bottles upright makes it hard to read the label copy which runs perpendicular to the bottle base doesn't seem to bother retailers or Ocean Spray since there's been no rush to correct the situation. This led us to speculate that Ocean Spray is monitoring reaction to the upright-displayed concentrate bottles by younger consumers. That reaction generally is pleasant surprise followed by mild disappointment upon recognizing that the 16-oz bottle is NOT a single-serve container. The company may have an eye toward introducing a single-serve ready-to-drink bottle sometime in the future. To our speculation that a single-serve single-strength Ocean Spray drink bottle may be in the works one official replied coyly "you never can tell." The company's unwillingness to discuss future packages is very nearly matched by its reticence regarding the packaging technology and production details surrounding its newest plastic bottle. The Tetra Pak aseptic carton equipment previously used for the concentrates has either been decommissioned or it is being used to run the brand's single-serve single-strength juice boxes. The new bottle's six vacuum side panels and seven-spoked vacuum base tell us it's hot filled. Most likely it's being filled and capped on a new line since Ocean Spray's established hot-fill PET bottle lines are probably not engineered to easily change over from the 64- and 128-oz sizes down to the new 16-ouncer. A "PETE/1" code on the heel of the new bottle identifies its principal polymer constituent as PET. Early samples we purchased and dissected are monolayer in structure. More recent samples clearly have multilayer structures. Sources familiar with the Ocean Spray concentrate restaging indicate Continental PET Technologies Inc. (Florence KY) is producing the multilayer PET/ethylene vinyl alcohol copolymer/PET/EVOH/PET bottles Ocean Spray is using. CPT directs inquiries about the concentrate bottle to Ocean Spray. And Ocean Spray won't say who's producing its new bottles or what's behind the mono- and multilayer bottle offerings. Speculation is that while Ocean Spray's 64- and 128-oz PET bottles are monolayer structures the 16-oz container's larger surface-to-volume ratio-and the product's concentrated form-may require an oxygen barrier more than straight PET can provide. For the same reasons the closures for the pints produced by White Cap Inc. (Downers Grove IL) may be barrier enhanced. Whether the new concentrate bottle spawns a single-serve PET bottle remains to be seen. One thing's sure: if the PET concentrate bottle succeeds in recapturing the momentum once enjoyed by the brand we will see others switching their concentrates to PET bottles as well.

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